Seriously, I heartily agree with some of the cuts, and I understand why taxpayers are frustrated and don't want to keep throwing money at a system full of problems. (Unfortunately, when parents won't parent and schools aren't allowed to toss out the baddies, all we can do is try to buy hope. I've been doughnut shopping at 2 a.m. I understand.)
But then there's this: "Officials said a large part of the $120 million could be removed by getting rid of the 45-minute-a-day teacher prep time, in which teachers grade papers or get classrooms ready when students are at gym class or music."
Sounds like we're just prancing around with a bag of stickers in one hand and a guide to feng shui in the other, doesn't it?
No, I won't snark. I know I sure had a different idea of what teachers did before I became one. I was prepared for all the political BS and paperwork and long hours, but I wasn't prepared for the classroom management. I can't blame non-teachers for being just as underinformed.
So, let me tell you how I use my daily prep. I'm not trying to paint myself as some sort of martyr - I really just want to share actual, measurable information.
- Mandatory cross-curricular team meetings. This uses up my entire prep one day each week. We can't meet after/before school because the members have commitments to other committees or to coaching or to tutoring/detention. (Coaching is compensated; the rest is not.) Besides, our schedules were specifically created so that we all have the same prep period; we are expected to use it.
- Team-based housekeeping. After the meeting comes the work. Team-based detention lists to type. Letters to compose. Emails to related parties. Facility request forms. Shopping lists. Extra lesson plans.
- Calling or emailing parents. If it's an email, which I prefer, I am very careful with my wording and any documentation I attach. This is a written record of how I am handling a situation, so it requires a little more than a breezy call of reassurance or quick heads-up of impending doom.
- Creating worksheets and handouts. Yes, we get some with our textbook, but they need to be supplemented. If I want to keep my job (and perhaps if I want to be a good teacher), I have to "differentiate" (big important buzzword) for all learners. I need to look at how we're doing ("data-driven instruction") and create materials that reinforce the weak spots. One standard textbook-issued worksheet with 10 mix-and-match words and definitions that the kids do one time isn't enough. I have to make magic squares, word maps, other graphic organizers... oh, for the days when every kid just brought their own slate.
- Photocopying worksheets and handouts. Hope the machines are working! If I make the master well enough in advance, the Graphic Arts staff can do it, but again, my teaching is expected to be a constant process of reflection and adjustment. If everyone struggles on Monday, I better whip up a supplement for Tuesday. So, that's me over there, in the Soviet-era queue for the one machine that can make 200 copies in under half an hour.
- Creating tests and quizzes. This is my third year teaching this grade level, so I do get to recycle, but I'm still growing in my career and trying new things. At this time I have very few formal assessments that I can reuse without tweaking, if only because I'm trying to cover some new stories this year.
- Creating seating charts. Theoretically, this is done because teachers are supposed to "utilize a variety of groupings." Really, it's because the universe has seen fit to give me its own cute version of Student Sudoku, where I have to arrange each of my 35 students (still small classes this year!) into 33 seats in such a way that everyone has an equal chance of not being distracted. (Plus work in IEP-mandated accommodations for eye problems, hearing problems, emotional problems, "staying focused" problems. I only have about one or two of these in each class. Strangely, they all fall into that last category.)
- Creating all of the other stuff. PowerPoints (because the kids are "such visual learners now"), webquests, audio supplements, and finding physical activities to suit our "kinesthetic learners" or to obey the district-taught "fact" that kids should not stay seated or do the same activity for more than 20 minutes. I'm not saying I disagree, but this is not the "read the chapter and answer the questions at the end" public schooling of yore. It requires more preparation.
- Writing and organizing the daily make-up work guidelines. Usually 10% of my students are gone every day. (Because it's still early in the year and because I have Honors... or else that number would be higher.) Alas, it's never the same 10%. I have to type of the "minutes" every day for the book that tells the kids what they missed and what they should do for make-up work. Then I have to organize any handouts/worksheets/etc. so they can find them easily. This doesn't keep all the absentees from raising their hands in the middle of my lecture to say, "Oh, miss, I was gone yesterday. What did we do?", but it does really help.
- Lesson plans. You'd think it'd just be a plan, right? No. It's objectives phrased just-so and all the little numbers for the state standards and making sure that your instructional time is divided into research-based segments...
- Email. There's a lot of it. The deans need homework for someone who was suspended. The counselors need to know how an ELL student is doing. My department chair wants to look over XYZ document and let her know (something). My horizontal team (same subject, same grade) needs to coordinate how we're going to approach a common objective. Someone on the other side of the building is desperate to know if they can borrow a TV for the day. Have you bought your (fundraising item) yet? Can I get a copy of that activity you did last year? Special testing tomorrow - please read the attachment for a list of students who should be excused. Have you signed off on the latest district training video? Have you signed up for the latest professional development? Don't forget - special event on Friday - please see attachment for the protocol. And so on and on and on.
- Paper trails. For all the things that people aren't covering in email.
- Face-to-facing. Gotta run to the office. Gotta run to the dean's. Gotta run ask the teacher down the hall something. Gotta bring someone something else. Gotta catch a kid in 5th period that you know ditched your 4th period. Most days I can hide away, with the window blocked and the door locked and the lights out to prevent interruptions, but sometimes life sneaks in.
- Peeing. Otherwise, it's not happening. Granted, I usually don't drink more than a sip of water between the time I go to bed and the time I come home from school the next day, because it's a tricky business, peeing at school. First, you have to hold out until prep because, frankly, if you're calling a campus monitor away from gangland patrol, you better have explosive diarrhea. Second, my school has one faculty bathroom. Sometimes the line is so long, I expect the original Journey lineup to be playing in one of the stalls. And I don't mean for that to sound grand, like we have dozens of opportunities for private repose. We have two stalls. Student bathrooms? After mid-morning, the student bathrooms are already devoid of paper products and correspondingly nasty. So, I try not to pee, but sometimes nature does call. It's great to have a whole prep period to sort that out. (Lunch is impossible, due to the large number of people who sell their preps and can only go then.)
- Grading. I currently have 175 students. They think every monosyllabic word that drops from their pens needs to be turned in and graded. I've learned to cackle in their faces and keep them guessing on what will be "worth something" to their grade and what is "pointless," but still, it's English class. We do a lot of writing. I therefore need to read a lot of writing. And then I need to write at least some feedback, or else what the hell am I doing here? (Heck, even a five-question quiz is time consuming to mark when you do 175 times.)
- Entering grades. Easy, but it still takes time. Not to mention going through the attendance records for the week for each class and calculating participation points.
Okay, they might say. Can't you do all of that other stuff in the 30 minutes before or after school?
I use my time before school to set up the classroom, run mandatory checks (mailbox, email), and attend parent/teacher conferences. In the middle of this 30 minute block, students can start entering classes, so I really only have 15 minutes before it's time to start putting out fires or, you know, actually getting to know the students.
I use my time after school for mandatory detentions/study sessions, other meetings (department, horizontal, homeroom, committees), parent/teacher conferences, and for helping those kids who were gutsy enough to try to get help after school before I'm pinballed to the next activity.
In other words, there isn't enough prep as it is.
So, if you take away my prep, you take away...
- Multiple activities for all kinds of learners
- Multiple and varied assessments based on what we're really doing in the classroom
- Teaming (which I love, if only because we can divide the labor and double-team the bad kids)
- Parent contact (unless they come down to the school)
- Preferential and/or effective seating
- Timely grades (already impossible within contract hours)
- All kinds of tiny activities that keep the cogs of the education machine turning
- Any hope of a tinkle.
Mind you, as of a few weeks ago, when we saw the potential cuts, a buzz started going around the local teaching community. It's called, "going home when our shift is over." We can't strike, but we can stick to our contract. In fact, there's enough momentum happening with this idea that our principal felt the need to address it at a staff meeting this week. S/he said s/he understood, but that we should remember that we got our cost-of-living raise this year, against the odds. So, s/he "doesn't want to hear anything else about teachers going home on the dot."
In other words, the long, off-the-clock hours are an expected under-the-table transaction. You got your COLA raise, teachers, so play along and keep violating your contract.
And because we're crazy, we all seemed to agree. Especially since the principal is good about letting people come in a bit early so they can leave early in the afternoon, or vice versa. We know s/he's just the messenger for all this budget mayhem.
Mind you, I come in 45 minutes early and stay late as already described, so leaving 10 minutes early now and again isn't the biggest carrot. Still, I'm grateful that my boss knows we're all pulling these wacky hours, so s/he isn't going to be a turd about watching the clock at the end of the day on Friday. I really am.
Again, I'm trying to be light, not snarky. No more prep periods? Please don't try to bring back the olden days unless you're going for the whole kaboodle. Meaning, can I buy a paddle at OfficeMax, and if so, do they drill the holes at Business Center there or do I have to do it myself? (See, I don't even expect the district to issue me one.)